Yes Shelly apologized, apologized and pulled wool over Charlie’s eyes. She told him she loved him, but did she? When she grew up she was going to marry a rich Texan, a prince on a roan, a decent fellow with huge arms. She was going to marry a Texan who would protect her and provide for her. Yes, Shelly apologized and apologized, and she wasn’t sure she made the right decision. She wasn’t sure she loved him. She wasn’t sure she loved anyone … wasn’t sure she knew what love was. And Charlie knew when she was going cry. He knew her. The first day after she said goodbye to her parents she cried and he stopped and put his head on the steering wheel. Trapped in a van he had no choice but to console her. Goodbye Cleveland, goodbye. And she apologized for crying.
Yes, Shelly apologized. She always apologized for not giving Charlie everything he wanted. She looked over from her side of the van. She looked at him from his side of the van and wondered what she got herself into. It happened so fast. He proposed, and she didn’t know why she said yes. He was laughing and shaking his head. She watched him laugh and shake his head and given the situation laughing seemed strange. Was he laughing at her? Charlie came with money. Shelly grew up with money, so money wasn’t a problem. Or was it? And it was nice to hear him say how much he loved her. But it made her sick. Yes, she apologized for that too.
“I’m used to walking but not in this heat,” George said.
“Here heat can kill you.”
“Thank you for the hat.”
“Are you going to stay in Tucson for a while?” Charlie asked. “You should always wear a hat.”
“I was thinking about it,” said George. “At least it’s less humid here than in Dallas.”
“So you’re from Dallas? I like Big D.”
And when it became time for George to leave Dallas and head west he said that he wouldn’t commit himself again, so getting away from Dallas helped him. He hadn’t slept for two days. He hadn’t slept and was feeling it, feeling it and the affects of heat, but getting away from Dallas helped him.
“I suppose you’ve been to Dallas?”
“I had a great time in Dallas. Big D!”
Big D and Miss M! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Talk of Dallas made George angry again. Thinking of Miss M made him angrier. In Dallas Miss M led him astray. Oh, Miss M. She seemed to know what she was doing. She watched him with alluring eyes.
“You’re very generous,” observed George.
“Generous? Many people here accuse us of contributing to a problem.”
“It’s ironic, isn’t it? You try to help and are contributing to a problem. It’s the way people think, I guess. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that a little suffering makes one stronger.” George became animated as he spoke quietly. Charlie followed him with great interest and said, “Suffering for gain, I like it.”
“But the most terrifying part of it comes from steadily losing ground.”
Charlie smiled and said, “If you’re hungry, you can go to St. Martin’s.” But before he gave George more information, Shelly came into the office. “Honey, George here is looking for a place to stay. Maybe you could suggest something.”
Shelly knew Charlie well. She knew him too well and knew that he already would’ve rented George a room if he didn’t have serious reservations about him. Shelly didn’t like how her husband did business, how he picked and chose whom he helped. And didn’t like how he threw money around. She wasn’t in the helping business like he was. Yet it was Shelly who managed their business because if she didn’t he’d give it away. But she wouldn’t have cared so much if he were her Texan, or if he changed.
She had to ask herself what happened? What happened to their marriage? Where was longing and passion when she pecked him on the cheek. Why didn’t she ever give him a real kiss? And why she pecked him on the cheek and called it a kiss? Why weren’t they passionate? They were once passionate. Or was it simply lust? Wet sheets clanged to their bodies as they lay on separate sides of their bed, and when the snooze alarm woke them they headed for separate bathrooms. She still tried to think positively. When did she stop getting angry with him?
Then the screen door slowly opened, and another homeless man poked his head in. Here was another opportunity. Here was another man approaching them with his hand out. Here was another chance for victory. Yes Charlie knew it, as he took the homeless man outside. He knew how to handle it and took the homeless man outside. He’d already sized this man up. This left Shelly with George. Not knowing what else to do George introduced himself.
“Okay,” said Shelly. “Well?”
“I can tell that you’re a very lonely person.”
Truth coming from a stranger stunned Shelly.
“I can see you don’t have love in your life.”
Stunned. It was accompanied with a tremor. She suffered from agony, and George saw it. He saw inside her, but would she go there and let ugliness ruin her day?
“Yes, you’re very unhappy.”
Shelly started fiddling with her blouse sleeve and said, “I’m sorry. You need to excuse me!” But she didn’t move … couldn’t move. “No. No, no please.”
“I know,” said George.
“Holy shit! Here I thought … I stay busy as a rule. You caught me at a bad time.”
“We don’t really hate bums. It’s a joke of ours. This is Charlie’s dream. It doesn’t make sense to me. What he does is a drop in the bucket.”
“And of course you’re angry,” he said, as he realized he sounded like every therapist he ever had. George also realized that he hadn’t been offered a chair, and as exhausted as he was it was too much.
He saw that she hated him. He saw it and it made him think of Nurse Cranly. Just as sure as his name was George the nurse’s name that held him down for his first shot of Haldol was Cranly.
“George? It’s George, isn’t it?” George nodded. “Do you think I’m loveable? Holy shit! I don’t know what’s gotten into me. You’re a stranger, and I asked you if you think I’m loveable.”
“Sometimes it’s easier to talk to strangers than people you know.”
George had always been a good little boy and what shocked people most was that he turned out bad; and when everybody counted on George and he disappointed them, they said that he was unlike George they knew. It was unlike George, George they counted on, but he was the same person. And though people had different names for him, George remained George and never used another name.
“In my case appearances are deceiving. I’m not really homeless … just strapped for cash. I was a bad boy, so they made me stand in a corner. I was a bad boy, so they punished me. Now I’m in a new town looking for a break.”
“So you’re looking for a rental?”
“Really, Mrs.…” said George with a half-hearted smile. “Really, I’m not looking for a handout. I’m just strapped now.”
“Please call me Shelly.”
“So you think I’m unhappy?”
All he had to do was to look at her to know she was unhappy but he wouldn’t criticize her. He would have nothing to do with criticism.
“Charlie and I are happy enough. Yes, Charlie. He tries. That much I can say for him. He tries. George,” she said, “I hope you’re not in a hurry.”
“Time is on my side. I have all the time in the world.”
“It’s amazing. You’re amazing. It’s amazing how in tune you are.”
“I don’t mean to make people feel awkward.”
“No, no. It’s the opposite. You…. There’s plenty here to keep me here, this meeting and that and Mass; so when it works out I enjoy talking to people.”
“Yes, you’re so right. It depends. You seem to know what I’m thinking.”
“I’m not without resources, but someone else controls my money. A miser doles it out to me each month. It drives me nuts.”
“In a perfect world I’d be doing something else. But the world isn’t perfect. It wouldn’t be impossible. But I wouldn’t know what to do. I would’ve made up my mind, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t think I could face Charlie. I wouldn’t know what to say or what to do. I don’t know how to tell him. I don’t know how to break it to him. I would’ve stood up to Charlie and told him the truth if I did. But he wouldn’t hear me … has never heard me. That’s him. That’s Charlie. He’s deaf when he wants to be. Then he wouldn’t believe me. He’d be too busy. He’d rather play golf, loves playing golf rather than listen to me. He’d rather help people. I’ve tried to tell him? Hasn’t he heard me cry? Sob. In a perfect world he’d support me … support me, regardless. But the world isn’t perfect. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I suppose you’re famous.”
“I am. How about you?”
“In this imperfect world I am. I’m known as a dishrag.”
“I know what you mean,” George said. “Yes, but I’m now free. But I’d rather be on the moon, wouldn’t you? They say I’m delusional. Now who isn’t delusional?”
“Delusional? But lovable. Delusional? I don’t believe you’re delusional.”
“No, I’m not. I’m not loveable, so don’t trust me. What are we up to our necks in? Crap!”
“Don’t we love it?”
“Yes, we do. We’re up to our necks in crap, and we love it.”
“My parents bitched about Charlie. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked. They found our relationship immoral. I had a don’t-give-a-damn attitude, a phony don’t-give-a-damn attitude, but a don’t-give-a-damn attitude all the same. And everybody knows the mistakes a girl can make with a handsome fool. And you add Johnny Mathis and a bottle of rum and a liter of coke. The right song and a mattress on a floor. What gentleman intentionally gets his best girl drunk? Roaring drunk! Hmm. ‘You’re going to take off with him, aren’t you?’ mother asked. Well, good lord! What was her problem? Now I know.”
He sat listening to Shelly, enjoying her story as he would a tale of adventure. When she finished, he nodded. After a long pause, she said, “George, there’s a friend of mine who might be able to help you. She rents furnished rooms and serves meals. It would give you a chance to be part of a family. Maria is an unhappy widow. She was one of the first people we met in Tucson. Rent there is reasonable. Room and board for a reasonable price. She’s a good cook.”
“There are other boarders. There’s this one guy who lives there … his name is Fred. I don’t care for Fred. He’s a nincompoop. So, what do you think George?”
“I’ll check it out.”
“Good. That makes me feel better.” But she actually felt terrible.
“Why the frown?” demanded George.
“I don’t know. I don’t know, but sometimes I feel like taking one of my husband’s golf clubs, one with a metal head, and while he’s snoring pounding him to death.”
“I felt the same on the bus. Only I thought about taking a gun and …”